Redford’s proposed energy strategy is wrong for Alberta

Alberta need not tie itself to a so-called Canadian energy strategy to promote provincial objectives.

While joking about getting nervous when he hears the words “national” and “energy” in the same sentence, Prime Minister Stephen Harper exposed the absence of clarity as to what, whether called “national” or “Canadian,” a grand energy plan for the country would really mean. And what would it mean for Albertans?

The first Alison Redford government throne speech provides some definition. While a throne speech is no beacon for clarity, there were three discernible principles in Redford’s pan-Canadian strategy: diversification of clientele, explanation of our goals and facilitation in bringing goods to market.

Client diversification refers to finding and securing greater markets. Since the current U.S. administration has chosen to be intimidated by environmentalists and ignore its vital strategic security, Alberta cannot afford to rely on steadily supplying that market. Designing “initiatives to access global markets” means looking to Asian markets for expanded energy exports.

Lending assistance to “Canadians and our trading partners in understanding Alberta’s energy goals” implies co-operation, but there is more to it. It likely aims at assuaging environmental concerns. Part of the goal should be sustainability and environmental responsibility.

Considering present circumstances, the facilitation of goods to market is likely the most important prong in the strategy. There is need for expanding the pipeline network. Keystone XL may be lost (at least temporarily), but Northern Gateway, the proposed pipeline to bring product from Alberta to the Pacific Coast, is not. This principle expresses a government desire to help combat the blockages that are likely to come.

Helping Alberta expand its energy markets more effectively is highly desirable, but the wisdom in having a national scheme to do it is questionable.

The creation of a pan-Canadian energy scheme risks inviting trouble that Alberta does not need. Many other proponents of such an initiative are not worried about Alberta’s energy markets, but are obsessed with the “massive challenge of climate change.” Those who see doom in climate variations also look for a massive system of wealth transfers from industrial to developing states. That was a principle motivation of the Kyoto accord, from which Canada has just unshackled itself.

A national energy strategy will be a proxy for radical environmentalists in jurisdictions that include our own, calling for a complete moratorium on oil sands development. But their real aim is eventually to stop production of all hydrocarbons.

In Quebec, the typical Canadian concern about preserving portions of unspoiled natural settings so that the public can enjoy them has reached a religious pitch against industrial development, and separatists are preparing to launch a court challenge against the government of Canada for pulling out of Kyoto.

A national energy strategy will also be a proxy for rent-seeking energy alternatives to milk greater subsidies from government for failed and failing, costly and highly inefficient wind and biofuels projects. Windmills slaughter massive numbers of bats and birds. The drive for biofuel is stripping natural settings to grow more crops, is driving water consumption and is making foodstuffs such as corn more expensive.

Because of such impact on wildlife, water, etc., environmental concerns have become embedded into discussions about energy, and have become weapons against Canadian enterprises.

A national energy strategy would be too big a project to be led by civil society or even industry. It will be a concert of governments and civil servants, likely an intergovernmental construct enlarging the civil service, further eroding fiscal gains and augmenting the democratic deficit.

In short, a Canadian energy strategy will open more platforms to attack Alberta’s traditional energy sector. These attacks will continue to aim at weakening, not enhancing, Alberta’s ability to produce and export its energy resources.

Undoubtedly, the Alberta government should look to facilitate the diversification of Alberta’s energy clientele, a clearer explanation of our strategic goals and bringing our energy products to market. Such goals are not opposed to cooperation and can easily be pursued in friendly market competition.

Marco Navarro-Genie is the research director at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. This column is distributed by